The Moral Paradox of Israel's Gaza War

Sunday, December 09, 2012 |  Tsvi Sadan

Operation Pillar of Cloud and the recent Gaza war left Israelis deeply frustrated. It was the third military operation in the last six years that ended, at best, with indecisive results, and the wacky victory celebrations in Gaza prove it.

Netanyahu and Barak are working hard now to convince us that the operation was a success despite its awful crescendo of a bus bombing in Tel Aviv and missile explosions in Rishon Letzion.

The three primary objectives of the operation were clearly spelled out by the government: restore the deterring power of Israel, destroy Hamas' long-range missiles and take back the initiative.

According to Barak, these three objectives were fully achieved, never mind the fact that the most important objective of restoring the deterring power of Israel cannot be verified at this early stage of the cease fire.

Revisiting the objectives of the previous operations in Lebanon (Second Lebanon War) and Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) is a telling exercise that shows how after each operation Israel is lowering the bar of expectations for a decisive military operation.

A vivid demonstration of this trend can be seen in the number of Palestinian casualties. In Operation Cast Lead, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, out of which 295 were “uninvolved” non-combatants. Pillar of Cloud left only 156 Palestinians dead, most of them terrorists and other "involved" people. Israeli leaders hope in vain that such surgical precision can secure the support of the international community for the right of Israel to exist and defend itself within its borders.

The new moral stand Israel forces upon itself is in accordance with the European ethics of war expressed in the Geneva Convention. In a nutshell, it says that parties to a conflict are prohibited from targeting civilians and are required to take all feasible precautions to avoid attacks that result in civilian casualties. They are also required to avoid defensive measures that put civilians in danger. Unnecessary attacks on their means of livelihood such as farms, housing, transport and health facilities, are also forbidden.

Countries and individuals that violate these codes are at risk of being charged with war crimes. The infamous Goldstone Report submitted to the UN after Operation Cast Lead did exactly that – it labeled Israel as a war criminal.

The problem with this moral stand, humane as it may seem, is that with the exception of Israel, no sovereign country takes it too seriously. The reason for this is simple: With such high moral standards to keep, no battle, skirmish or war can be won. This is why coalition soldiers didn't hesitate to target Iraqi civilians when they thought their lives were in danger. England and America didn't hesitate to wipe out entire German cities in order to achieve a decisive victory in World War II. If the allies were restricting themselves as Israel does, World War II would still be going on, or at least would not have ended in a decisive way.

It is a matter of fact that by adhering to the letter of the Geneva Convention, Israel imposes upon itself a violent conflict that can never end. There is a gruesome paradox in the Geneva code of ethics few are willing to admit: The sweeping demand to avoid civilian casualties prolongs conflicts rather than ending them, which means that in cases of just war, as was the case in Gaza, the Geneva codes are unethical.

Once the Americans restricted themselves to avoiding civilian casualties at all costs, they had no choice but to end their presence in Afghanistan. Unfortunately for some however, Israel is not about to end its presence in this region, and therefore it has to find ways to end any violent conflict decisively.

This brings me to the bottom line: Israeli leaders are being force-fed an unrealistic moral code by an international community that is determined to stop Israel from achieving the kind of decisive military victory that would secure its presence in the region for generations to come.

The international community's lack of concern over the tens of thousands of dead Syrian civilians proves that the moral criteria forced in a discriminate manner upon Israel alone masquerades a sinister agenda that seeks to de-legitimize the existence of a sovereign Jewish state. The frustration of Israelis with their leaders' unwillingness to bring Hamas to its knees isn't the testimony of an immoral people. Rather, it speaks of a society unwilling to cave to the selective application of moral codes meant to bring about their demise.

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